Manslaughter Laws In Arizona


In Arizona, there are four classifications of homicide: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, negligent homicide, and manslaughter. Although the different classifications of homicide can often be confused for the same thing, each is a different charge with varying penalties.

A manslaughter charge can be even less straightforward, as multiple scenarios can be classified as manslaughter. All of this information can make it difficult to understand how a case will be classified and how to prepare a defense.

The specific definitions and penalties for manslaughter are outlined in Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1103. It’s important to understand what manslaughter is, what a manslaughter sentence in Arizona may be, and how to build a proper defense. 

When Manslaughter is Committed in Arizona

There are five situations of homicide that may be classified as manslaughter. The following situations are cases in which a person may be charged with manslaughter in Arizona.

1. Recklessness

One of the most common situations for manslaughter is when a person causes the death of another through recklessness. This definition is broad and encompassing, and for many manslaughter charges, this is the definition used to classify an act as manslaughter.

This form of manslaughter requires the prosecution to prove three things:

  • You caused the death of another person
  • You were aware of the risk of your actions
  • You showed a conscious disregard for the risks of death

An example of reckless manslaughter is recklessly driving under the influence of alcohol and killing someone in an accident, also known as vehicular manslaughter. Another case of manslaughter may be recklessly handling a firearm that discharges and kills someone as a result.

2. Sudden Quarrel or Heat of Passion

Another common case is when someone commits second-degree murder as a crime of passion. This scenario means that the crime was not premeditated or planned but is instead the result of a “sudden quarrel or heat of passion” in the moment. Second-degree murder, outlined in A.R.S. 13-1104, is when a person intentionally causes the death of another person without premeditation.

An important distinction is that crimes resulting from the heat of passion must not have had a cooling-off period. A cooling-off period is the time it would take for a person to regain their composure and self-control after an incident that provoked a heat of passion.

A common example of this situation is when someone finds out that their significant other has been cheating on them. In the heat of the moment, they attack their cheating partner, resulting in their death.

To convict someone of manslaughter by sudden quarrel or heat of passion, a prosecutor must be able to prove the following:

  • You intentionally killed another person or knowingly acted in a way that offered risk
  • You acted upon a sudden argument or a fit of rage in the moment
  • You were provoked in some way by the person who was killed

A person must be provoked through “adequate provocation”, which means that the victim must have provoked the perpetrator in a way that would cause a reasonable person to lose self-control. Words are not enough to be considered adequate provocation.

3. Aiding Suicide

Manslaughter by aiding suicide occurs when a perpetrator deliberately assists in the suicide of another person. In most states, including Arizona, assisted suicide is illegal, even if performed by medically trained and licensed professionals. In Arizona, assisting in a suicide, regardless of medical training, is considered manslaughter.

An example of manslaughter by aiding suicide would be a friend or family member of a patient suffering from a chronic illness making an agreement to commit an act that leads to their death, such as poisoning their food.

Because medical professionals are not exempt from this charge, another example would be a doctor prescribing a suicidal patient a medication that could be lethal. If the patient goes home to take the medication and dies as a result, the doctor could be charged with manslaughter.

4. Coercion

Manslaughter by coercion, or by force, is when someone commits second-degree murder under coercion of another person. A.R.S. 13-1103 describes this as acting under the “use or threatened immediate use of unlawful deadly physical force” when unable to do otherwise.

To convict a person for manslaughter by coercion, the prosecution would need to prove that:

  • Your actions caused the death of another person.
  • You were forced to take reckless action by the threat of or use of deadly force against you or someone else

An example of this type of manslaughter would be a perpetrator threatening to injure an individual’s loved one unless that person agrees to assist with a robbery. If that person is coerced into committing a robbery and forced by the perpetrator to discharge a gun at a store clerk, they would be charged with manslaughter by force. 

Coercion is not considered a justification for taking someone else’s life, so the charges aren’t likely to be dropped. However, a deadly threat against you or a loved one can drop a charge from second-degree murder to manslaughter.

5. Unborn Child

Causes the death of an unborn child by injuring the mother. As an example of unborn child manslaughter, if an angry boyfriend attacks a pregnant mother during an argument, resulting in the death of the unborn child, he would likely be charged with manslaughter in addition to potential assault charges.

For a person to be convicted of manslaughter of an unborn child, the prosecution must be able to prove that the defendant knew the mother was pregnant and that their reckless actions specifically led to the death of the child.

There are several important exceptions to this, as the law protects:

  • Those who performed authorized abortions
  • Those who provided medical services to the mother or child
  • The mother of the unborn child

In these situations, the law prevents the charge of homicide because the mother has either consented to medical services or has herself performed the act.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter

When discussing manslaughter, many people have become familiar with the differentiation between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. You can distinguish between the two by understanding:

  • Voluntary manslaughter is committed intentionally
  • Involuntary manslaughter is committed unintentionally

However, as of 1978, Arizona does not classify manslaughter as voluntary or involuntary. Instead, cases that likely would have fit the definition of involuntary manslaughter are now filed under negligent homicide, which is classified as a homicide charge.

Negligent homicide is considered the lowest level of murder charges, but it is still a serious offense. Examples of negligent homicide may include a parent leaving a child in a hot car, someone waiting too long to call 911 for someone else in a health emergency, or a babysitter making a mistake that leads to a child’s death.

It can be difficult to differentiate between negligent homicide and manslaughter. The key difference between the two is whether you were aware of the risks of your actions. For example, in an instance like leaving a child in a hot car, the risks are well-known, and the offender would likely be charged with negligent homicide.

Manslaughter Penalties in Arizona

A.R.S. 13-1103 states that manslaughter is a class 2 felony. There are many factors that influence Arizona manslaughter sentencing guidelines, including prior felonies, and whether or not the manslaughter charge is considered a dangerous offense, which occurs if a deadly weapon was used during the incident.

A.R.S. 13-702(D) outlines the following prison sentences for class 2 felonies if they are not considered dangerous offenses and the offender has no previous felony convictions:

  • Mitigated sentence: 3 years
  • Minimum sentence: 4 years
  • Presumptive sentence: 5 years
  • Maximum sentence: 10 years
  • Aggravated sentence: 12.5 years

For offenders who have prior felonies, or if it’s ruled that the manslaughter was a dangerous offense, then the sentencing can go well beyond 12.5 years in prison. A manslaughter sentence can also include probation, jail time, and/or fines and surcharges.

Defending Against Manslaughter Charges

Manslaughter charges are serious and can result in significant consequences for those convicted. However, there are several potential defenses that can be taken for a defendant who has been charged. 

The most common defenses include:

  • Supervening cause – The defense can argue that you were not the cause of the death, but instead, it was someone or something else that ultimately led to the person’s death, like a health condition.
  • You were not reckless – If the defense finds that your actions were not reckless and taken despite knowing the risks, the charges can be lowered to a negligent homicide charge instead of manslaughter.
  • Poor quality evidence and investigation – If the investigation used to charge you was flawed, you may have the charges dropped in court. Examples include evidence found through unlawful search or seizure that makes it inadmissible in court or blood test results mishandled in the laboratory.
  • A constitutional violation – A violation of your rights, like a Miranda Rights Violation that makes incriminating statements inadmissible in court, can weaken the case against you and provide a possible defense.

The quality of your defense often depends on your lawyer. It’s important to find a skilled lawyer to support you in your case against a manslaughter charge so you can fully understand your charges and use the best possible defense. 

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney in Arizona

Manslaughter is a serious charge, but with multiple definitions, the charges are not always clear. If you’re charged with manslaughter, it’s important to have a lawyer by your side to help you understand the charges against you and support you in your defense.

At JacksonWhite Law, we understand the sensitivity of cases involving manslaughter and make every effort to ensure an effective legal defense for our clients. If you’ve been charged with manslaughter, contact our office today to discuss your case for free with our Mesa defense lawyers.

Our team has helped hundreds of clients throughout the Phoenix metro area, and when you need assistance, we’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 418-4281 to discuss your case today.

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